Connect with us

News

Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt Will Testify on Antidoping Measures Ahead of Olympics

Two of America’s most decorated Olympic swimmers will ask Congress on Tuesday to hold the global antidoping agency accountable for failing to properly police allegations of cheating by elite Chinese athletes.

In testimony prepared for delivery on Tuesday night to a House subcommittee, Michael Phelps, the 23-time Olympic gold medalist, and Allison Schmitt, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, urged Congress to push for reforms of the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA. They said the uncertainty about whether Chinese swimmers have been using banned substances is deeply unfair to competitors heading into the Summer Games next month in Paris.

The hearing comes two months after The New York Times reported that the Chinese antidoping authorities and WADA had declined to discipline 23 elite Chinese swimmers who tested positive for a banned drug in early 2021, paving their way to compete at the Games held in Tokyo that summer.

Chinese authorities said the positive tests were the result of unwitting contamination of the swimmers and involved tiny amounts of the banned substance, a finding that WADA accepted but that many antidoping experts have questioned.

Schmitt was a member of the U.S. 4×200-meter freestyle relay team that finished second to China at the Tokyo Olympics, one of the five events in which Chinese swimmers who had tested positive for the banned substance months earlier won medals, including three golds.

“We raced hard,” Schmitt wrote of the American team in testimony provided to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. “We trained hard. We followed every protocol. We respected their performance and accepted our defeat.”

She added: “Learning that the Chinese relay consisted of athletes who had not served a suspension, I look back with doubt. We may never know the truth, and that may haunt many of us for years.”

The scrutiny of its handling of positive tests by Chinese swimmers has left WADA facing a growing crisis headed into this summer’s Games.

Some American athletes who will be competing in Paris, including the two-time Olympic gold medalist Lilly King, have said that they cannot be confident they will be competing on a fair playing field. In his remarks prepared for delivery on Tuesday, Phelps, who like Schmitt is retired from competitive swimming, referred to WADA as “an organization that continuously proves that it is either incapable or unwilling to enforce its policies consistently around the world.”

The United States provides more funding to the agency than any other nation, including more than $3.6 million this year.

In his remarks prepared for delivery to the House subcommittee, Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency and an outspoken critic of WADA, suggested that the U.S. condition its funding of the agency.

He proposed that WADA, in an effort to prevent what happened with the Chinese swimmers from happening again, set up an independent expert committee to review cases in which athletes have tested positive but their countries have declined to discipline them. Under the current rules, even athletes who are not disciplined are supposed to have their positive test publicly disclosed.

In the case of the Chinese swimmers before the 2021 Games, no public announcement was made of the positive tests, the swimmers were not punished and they went on to compete at the Olympics without their rivals knowing there were questions about their use of a banned substance.

Tygart will also ask for WADA to make public its entire case file on the Chinese positive tests and for an audit of the agency.

Failure to address what he called the “WADA horror show,” Tygart said, would “risk undermining the dreams of tens of millions of youth all around the world who rely on the global antidoping system to protect them to compete clean, safe and on a fair playing field, not one tilted against them in favor of WADA’s chosen few.”

The agency has stood by its handling of the positive tests. It has appointed a former top Swiss prosecutor to investigate whether it did anything wrong or gave China favorable treatment, though American officials, other countries’ antidoping authorities and athletes have questioned if this inquiry will be truly independent. The findings of that investigation are expected to be released before the Olympics.

Witold Banka, the president of WADA, was invited to testify at the House hearing but declined to attend, according to the subcommittee.

The Times reported in April that the Chinese antidoping authorities had claimed that the athletes should not be disciplined because trace amounts of the drug they tested positive for — a prescription heart medication known as trimetazidine, or TMZ — had been found in the kitchen of a hotel where they were staying for a meet in late 2020 and early 2021.

The Chinese authorities concluded that the positive tests after the meet were therefore a result of the swimmers’ unwittingly ingesting food contaminated by TMZ, though it was not clear how the medication, which comes in a pill form, could have ended up in the meals of so many swimmers.

Despite rules that require public disclosure of contamination cases — even those in which the athletes are cleared of wrongdoing — the Chinese kept the positive tests secret. WADA, which is set up to be the backstop when countries fail to follow the rules, accepted the explanation from the Chinese authorities, did not do an investigation on the ground and declined to try to discipline the athletes.

The revelation by The Times about the positive tests and WADA’s handling of them raised questions around the world about the agency tasked with keeping the Olympics clean.

The loudest outcry has come from the United States, which has seen intensifying competition from China in swimming. The Biden White House’s top drug official has demanded more accountability and transparency from WADA, members of Congress have urged the F.B.I. to investigate the matter and lawmakers are weighing whether to continue providing funding to the agency.

In her prepared remarks, Schmitt described the lengths American athletes go through to ensure compliance with antidoping rules, from having to urinate in front of drug testers to avoiding something as simple as a topical cream to help with dry skin if they are not sure of the ingredients in it.

“I’ve even had a drug tester come sit next to me during a history exam in college because they show up unannounced,” Schmitt said.

Phelps first testified before Congress on this issue in 2017, in response to the doping scandal during which a former Russian official said publicly that the country had run a state-sponsored doping program that produced Olympic stars. Phelps said in his witness statement for Tuesday’s hearing that he was “incredulous” to be back addressing the same issue seven years later.

“It is clear to me that any attempts of reform at WADA have fallen short, and there are still deeply rooted systemic problems that prove detrimental to the integrity of international sports and athletes’ right to fair competition,” Phelps said.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Must See

More in News